Seafood is the most traded commodity in the world, and it is estimated that 85 percent of wild fish stocks are overfished or fully exploited. As a way to address the plethora of environmental issues found within the commercial seafood industry, startup Aqua Cultured Foods is developing alternative forms of seafood using fermentation.
The company, based in Chicago, Illinois, is in the process of developing whole muscle cuts of alternative seafood using fungi. I spoke on the phone this week with Anne Palermo, the CEO and founder of Aqua Cultured Foods, who was looking for a solution that could help feed the rapidly growing global population. She said, “The more I looked into fermentation, the more I thought that was the way to do it. You can create whole, bioavailable proteins that are very efficient to produce anywhere in the world.”
Using its fermentation process, Aqua Cultured Foods can produce a wide variety of seafood analogs — shrimp, white fish, ahi tuna, scallops, and calamari, to name a few. According to Palermo, the products will have the slippery and delicate texture found in many types of seafood, and will also contain the vitamin B12, which can sometimes be challenging to acquire naturally in a vegan or plant-based diet.
When asked about the process and tech behind developing the whole-muscle cuts of seafood, Palermo said she could not share much at the moment. The startup currently has three pending patents for its alternative seafood and the process behind it, including one for its proprietary fungi.
The Good Food Institute considers the plant-based seafood industry a white space, and this sector currently only accounts for 1 percent of total plant-based meat sales. There are so many different types and species of seafood, so at the moment there are seemingly endless possibilities for innovation in this space.
For alternative seafood, there are three different categories: plant-based, cultured, and fermentation. Aqua Cultured Foods seems to be really the only company in the fermentation category, but Prime Roots and Quorn each have one alternative seafood product (lobster ravioli and fish sticks). Blue Nalu, Wild Type, Shiok Meats, Avant Meats are a few companies that fall into the cultured meat category. The plant-based category includes Sophie’s Kitchen, New Waves Foods, Good Catch, and Hooked.
Popcorn shrimp will be the first product launched by Aqua Cultured Foods, but the release date of the product has yet to be announced. The whole-muscle cuts of seafood will be available at some point after the popcorn shrimp on retailer shelves.